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Internet routers have sat unused for nearly two years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly two years after state officials used federal stimulus money to buy $24 million worth of Internet routers, 366 of the devices remain boxed up at storage sites in West Virginia.

State officials purchased the routers in July 2010 with plans to distribute the equipment to county courthouses, schools, jails, libraries and health-care clinics as part of $126 million high-speed Internet expansion project funded by the federal economic stimulus.

But more than half of the stored routers -- 186 -- currently don't have designated places to put them. What's more, the 366 boxed-up routers came with a five-year service warranty, so the state has already lost two years of free maintenance on the equipment.

Members of the state's broadband project team said they are working with federal officials to ensure every router winds up at a public facility in West Virginia. The routers cost $22,600 each.

"We're going to hit all the designated numbers as part of the grant," said John Dunlap, a state Office of Technology director assigned to the project. "There's no story here. We're going to find homes for these routers."

State Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato said the state negotiated the five-year warranty, expecting delays because of the broadband project's massive size.

"This is the largest project in the country," said Gianato, who heads the broadband grant implementation team. "We wanted the additional maintenance time because we knew a lot of the routers weren't going to be deployed right away."

Two years ago, state officials identified 1,064 "community anchor institutions" that needed new routers and a fiber optic Internet connection.

However, it turned out that more than 300 of those sites already had fiber and suitable routers.

"A lot of [the routers] were assigned, but all of a sudden, we had to redline them," Dunlap said.

Asked why the state would buy more than 1,000 routers before ensuring there were an equal number of places to put them, Dunlap said, "All the engineering hadn't been submitted. We're still discovering sites have already have fiber, and sites where we thought they had fiber, but fiber doesn't exist."

So state officials are scurrying to find "replacement sites" for the "orphan" routers.

The state is now waiting for the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees broadband stimulus funding, to sign off on the proposed new locations. State officials declined to name the sites.

"The remaining routers are pending designation once the replacement community anchor institution list is approved by the NTIA," said Diane Holley-Brown, a spokeswoman for the state's technology office. "Once the Office of Technology receives approval from NTIA, these routers will also be shipped out to the respective anchor institution locations."

Routers funnel data, such as email and web pages, from one network to another.

For now, hundreds of stimulus-funded routers remain unused at six storage sites -- in Nitro, Morgantown, South Charleston, Big Chimney, and at two locations in Charleston.

The state Office of Technology alone has 234 of the 366 stored routers stacked up in two locations -- the basement of Building 6 at the state Capitol and in a 10th floor conference room in Building 5. The office is housing routers for jails, health clinics, regional development groups and other agencies.

Seventy-seven of the routers stored at the technology office already have been assigned to a site, Holley-Brown said.

Nearly 70 routers designated for libraries remain in storage. The state Department of Education has 63 routers boxed up.

All 55 routers assigned to county courthouses across West Virginia haven't been shipped.

On the positive side, West Virginia State Police have distributed 76 of 77 routers received to detachments and other offices.

Also, 51 of the state's 55 emergency 911 centers have received routers.

Although 738 routers have been distributed to public facilities across West Virginia over the past two years, the state's broadband project team doesn't keep track of how many of the devices have been installed and turned on.

"Since most of the community anchor institutions do not order service through the Office of Technology, we cannot provide that information," Holley-Brown said. "Currently, the primary focus at the time is deploying the routers to the anchor locations. These locations are in various stages of implementation."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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